Gluten removed beer. It’s a hot topic, because not every one sees eye to eye on this frosty bevereage. So, amidst all the talk, what is gluten removed beer and what does science say about its safety?
Gluten Removed Beer, Brewer’s Clarex, and Hydrolysis
Brewers create gluten removed beers with barley, a grain that naturally contains gluten. The creators of Omission (and many other gluten-removed beers on the market) add a chemical that claims to “break down” gluten through hydrolysis. This chemical, Brewer’s Clarex, hydrolyzes gluten proteins to make beers appear less cloudy. But testing its safety is less transparent.
So far, the only testing methods widely available to manufacturers is ELISA testing. For non-hyrdolyzed or fermented foods, ELISA is good. However, it only detects complete gluten protein chains, not fragments. Therefore, hydrolyzed foods and liquids, which create gluten fragments, can’t be accurately tested with these methods.
For a better scientific about hyrdrolyis and gluten free testing, please see this post “Sandwich ELISAs and Hydrolyzed Gluten,” written by the Gluten Free Dietitian.
Another good article regarding Brewer’s Clarex – “Is Barley Based Beer Gluten Removed Beer Safe for People with Celiac Disease?”
Gluten Intolerance Group Performs Study on Gluten Removed Beer
In 2017, the Gluten Intolerance Group conducted a study, in coordination with the University of Chicago Celiac Disease Center. They sought to undestand the conflicting anecdotal reports from those who drink gluten removed beer. Some claimed after imbibing, that they had no reactions. Some stated that they did. Therefore, GIG and Univ. of Chicago performed a lab based study.
This study utilized serum from diagnosed Celiac Disease patients. They tested serum against traditional beer, naturally gluten-free beer and gluten-removed beer. They did this by reducing the beers down, extracting their residual proteins, and then pairing those proteins with patient blood serum. Chemical reagents then showed whether Celiac antibodies bound to those proteins.
Intrestingly, their research refelcted the comments from those drinking gluten removed beer. Serum from some patients reacted, some did not. However, based on their research, GIG concluded they will NOT certify these beers as gluten free. Because one cannot predict who will react, and who will not, one must take precautions that will protect everyone.
The FDA Clarifies Concerns About Hydrolysis and Gluten
In 2013, the FDA created a definition of the term “gluten free.” This included statements that foods (and beverages) labeled gluten free must contain under 20 ppm of gluten. Since then, advocates have requested (multiple times) for the FDA to speak further on hydrolysis and fermentation in foods labeled gluten free. Which impacts the gluten removed beer market.
In August of 2020, the FDA finally spoke. They declared that any hydrolzyed or fermented foods, that desire a gluten free claim, must use ingredients that are gluten free prior to these chemical reactions. Please read Gluten Free Watchdog’s post “FDA Publishes Final on Gluten Free Labeled Fermented or Hydrolyzed Foods.”
The FDA vs the TTB
Technically, most alcohol falls under the jurisdiction of the Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, known as the TTB. In fact “The labeling of all beers made with both malted barley and hops is under the jurisdiction of the TTB. If a beer is made without either malted barley or hops its labeling is under the jurisdiction of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).” (source, Gluten Free Watchdog; Is Barley-Based “Gluten-Removed” Beer Safe for People with CeliacDisease?)
So what does the TTB say on the matter? They state a gluten removed beer must include this on their label or in advertising: “Product fermented from grains containing gluten and processed to remove gluten. The gluten content of this product cannot be verified, and this product may contain gluten.” (See this link, page 10.) Therefore, it’s important to do your research.
Further Thoughts on Gluten Removed Beer & Testing
All of these regulations depend on the gluten analysis testing we currently have available. Another form of testing, called Mass Spectrometry, looks at gluten differently than ELISA testing does. While this type of testing is in early stages, a Forbes article published in 2017 showed that gluten removed beers contained well over 20 ppm of gluten.
Unfortunately, the understanding of malt and gluten reduced beers is not universal. In the UK, gluten removed beers are actually allowed to be labeled gluten free. GF Tracy further explains the UK guidelines in her post about “Can you Detect Gluten in Beer?” Which means we need to be on guard when purchasing beers from outside the United States.
Therefore, I encourage you to only drink beer made from gluten free grains. I’ve compiled a list of them in my updated Gluten Free Beer Review post. In addition, wine, hard cider and mead all contain no gluten, and are acceptable choices. GF Jules provides some excellent suggestions in her post about Gluten Free Alcohol. Please remember to always drink responsibly.